Vox is the novella length discussion between Abby and Jim, two relatively lonely people inspired, late one night, to call a sex phone line to make a connection with someone, anyone. They find each other, and as the novel progresses, through a series of neatly spaced erotic stories, they begin to develop a friendship, marvelling at the strange wonders of technology, the phone, and how it could bring two people together who would never otherwise meet.
The entire story is in dialogue, with only a very few 'he said' and 'she said's to allow us to remember just who is speaking - which due to the quality of the writing and characterisation is rarely necessary. At first, Jim is mostly interested in one thing, but early on he realises that he has found someone who is perhaps worth more of a time investment than a 'normal' call to this particular chatline, and for a very long time, there is only very minor sex talk. They discuss the little oddities of life that everyone discusses in quiet moments, sharing thoughts about mundane items or events in ways that would no doubt sound instantly familiar to anyone, anywhere. A huge positive of this novella is that Baker writes both characters with a sense of awareness, just like any other normal person. There are a lot of things that the two characters just plain get, and a lot that they don't. They can talk about the casual immediacy of events, or the metaphysics of those little lights on stereo sets.
A few questions. Have you ever, when talking to someone, wanted to travel through the phone? Yes. Have you ever spoken to someone, and you know that if, through any circumstance whatsoever, there is a break in the conversation, the magic will be gone and that will be that? Yes. Have you ever taken a sick day off from work and then felt so guilty about it that you just had to spend the rest of the day being 'pious'? Yes. Abby and Jim discuss these little truths about the world, and more, though to be honest, most of the rest tend to the explicit. Those conversations are, I think, handled tastefully, without resorting to vulgarity, which is surprising, considering the nature of the call and of the story. To be sure, quite often explicit conversation will begin, but it is of a 'warm' nature, I suppose, not vulgar and shocking and crude - they even make a point about that fact in adult movies.
Nicholson Baker writes with the heart. I've had conversations like this. You've had conversations like this. Whether or not they tended to the erotic doesn't matter, the point is: we've all spoken to another person that we've been interested in, and they've returned the interest, and we know the way we talk and what we talk about. This novel perfectly captures this, and by the end of it, I felt utterly sad that these two, imperfect, beautiful, interesting and sexual characters were just that...characters. Never have I felt so cheated before, or so thankful that I had been, if only for a moment, able to glimpse into the minds of these two extraordinarily ordinary people, through one simple phone conversation.